20 February, 2010
Why I do not believe that Jerome will join Hubert in a “national government.” To recap, for those who do not realise what is at stake in Anguilla's political establishment. Hubert Hughes and his Anguilla National Movement was the successful party in the recent Anguilla general elections. The AUM won four of the seven seats in the Anguilla House of Assembly. The Governor appointed Hubert to be Chief Minister. Acting on his advice the Governor has appointed his other three successful party candidates, Edison Baird, Walcott Richardson, and Evan Gumbs, to fill the three remaining seats on the Executive Council. Victor Banks' outgoing Anguilla United Force lost the election, retaining only two seats in the Legislature. This transferred the AUF to the opposition benches in the House. The Anguilla Progressive Party of Brent Davis won the one remaining seat. That winning APP candidate was Jerome Davis. That places Jerome on the opposition benches. There, he joins Othlyn Vanterpool and Neil Rogers of the AUF.
Throughout the election campaign the members of the APP repeatedly assured their supporters that none of them would break ranks, if elected, to join with another party in forming a government. We were invited either to elect a majority of APP candidates to form a government, or, if a minority was elected, they would serve the next five years in opposition. In spite of that promise, Jerome is said to be consulting with his constituency stalwarts on whether he should break with his party, leave the opposition ranks, and join Hubert's government.
It has been widely published that Hubert has invited Jerome to join in a “national government”. Hubert has been quoted as saying that a national government is needed in Anguilla at this time. National government in time of extreme external threat is permissible. It calls for the most exceptional circumstances. National government is a code name for government with no opposition, a dictatorship in short. When the outside threat is so severe that we are prepared to give up our freedoms and liberties, surrender our democratic right of opposition to certain elements of government policy in the interest of defeating the enemy, then only is national government acceptable. During the Second World War, the British Labour party joined with the Conservative government to form a national government. It dissolved immediately the War ended.
From Hubert's point of view, if he can tempt Jerome into joining him, there are only advantages. With his superior political experience, he could ensure that Jerome was no threat or challenge to his government. To quote Lyndon B Johnson on why he did not fire J Edgar Hoover as the head of the FBI, “It is probably better to have him on the inside of the tent pissing out, than on the outside pissing in.” There is no doubt this is a brilliant move on Hubert's part. Trust the old fox of Anguilla politics to think up such a smart move as that!
By securing Jerome's allegiance, Hubert's government would become more secure. Instead of having a bare majority in the House of Assembly, he would have a comfortable majority. In case Sutcliffe Hodge did not prevail in his promised challenge to Neil Rogers' successful recapturing of the Valley North constituency, this would give him a vital buffer in case one of his Ministers became ill.
Sutcliffe is said to have promised to support Hubert's government if he should win the North Valley seat. He lost the vote, but is suing for Neil's win to be overturned. Even if he successfully challenged Neil, he might not do any better in any bye-election, in the event that the judge ordered one. Or, if he prevailed, Sutcliffe might prefer to remain in opposition, and to fight for honest government from the opposition benches. Hubert needs the reassurance of another seat in the House now, he cannot afford to wait for Sutcliffe.
From Jerome's point of view, there are temptations to join with Hubert. He would be gaining a front seat at the banquet of power. This should mean that he could lobby for some of the crumbs of patronage that will fall from the table of government. He may be able to get positions for himself and his main supporters, a pay-back that some of them may expect and may desperately need. He will have a taste of power, a seat at the decision-making body of the nation. Politicians drool over such a prospect. He might even convince himself that he could be a force for good once he was in government.
The critical point of view in all this is the people's. From our point of view, Jerome joining a government that did not belong to his party would be only a negative development. We could no longer rely on him to keep government honest, something he could only do from the opposition benches. If he gave his allegiance to such a government then, when government made a mistake, he would have to keep quiet about it. He would no longer be available to introduce independent Motions, Resolutions, and Bills in the House, and lobby and argue for their passage. He could not organise the Public Accounts Committee to oversee government expenditure of public funds. He could not challenge government from the government benches. A voice for the people would have been lost. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either naïve or simply does not know how government works. Hubert's reign would become essentially unrestrained.
Other than Neil, who has never been known to speak in the past on any of the topics of transparency, accountability or integrity in government, there would be no advocate for good government in the House. Othlyn Vanterpool, the sole AUF member of the House if Sutcliffe were to win the election petition, would be as equally unreliable as Neil would have been as an advocate for transparency, accountability, and integrity in the new government. His timidity and inactivity in his last position as Director of Fisheries does not give us any confidence that he would suddenly become a champion for integrity in government.
Don't get me wrong. I am not assuming that Hubert's government is inevitably going to go rogue. I am not attacking Hubert. I am assuming that, no matter how hard Hubert tries, there will be a need for an opposition to do what a good opposition does: to point out the mistakes that are being made, the concerns that are not being addressed, and the promises that are not being fulfilled. The likelihood is that Hubert will be so busy worrying over the economy for the next couple of years that he will put his undertakings to introduce good-governance measures on the back burner. We shall need a vocal and active opposition in the House to remind him of his campaign promises. That is why we need a Jerome on the opposition benches.
If Jerome were to be seduced into Hubert's 'national government', he would have shown himself to be unreliable. His reputation for integrity would be shot. He would have turned his back on his party. He would be seen as having been willing to sell them out for thirty pieces of silver. A viable, energetic, enthusiastic, developing political force, the APP, would have been betrayed, perhaps mortally wounded. It might be difficult for the party to recover from such a near-mortal blow. Neither Jerome nor the APP would be likely to gain an increase in public support in the next general elections. It would more likely than not be the end of Jerome's career in the House of Assembly. The likelihood is that, having cut ranks and crossed the floor, he would never win his seat again. Could this be what President Abraham Lincoln meant when he famously asked, “Am I not destroying my enemy when I make a friend of him?”
The damage to Jerome would be the least of the loss to Anguilla. It is vital for a healthy democracy that we have a robust and active opposition in the House of Assembly and in the country, whether it be the AUF or the APP, to keep the new government on their toes. It is precisely the absence of such an effective opposition over the past ten years that is largely to blame for the island having sunk insensibly into bankruptcy and discredit. Jerome joining a “national government” with Hubert Hughes would be a loss for Jerome, for the APP, and, most of all, for Anguilla.
The Jerome I know has too much political savvy to make such a short-sighted, party-destroying, nation-denying, career-ending mistake.